Q1 2017 Performance: Equity/Commodity Trading

In the previous two articles, I wrote about my forex trading and equity investments performance for the first quarter of this year. In this article, I will talk about my 1st quarter performance for equity/commodity trading.

For the first quarter of 2017, my active trading performance for equities and commodities (commodity ETFs) was up 3.51%.

Equity/Commodity Trading Portfolio (Robinhood) P/L
The white line represents the start of the year.

For years, I could not trade equities and commodity ETFs due to commissions. Thanks to Robinhood, I’m not able to trade for free.

My first loss came from the first trade of the year. I thought energy, especially oil would go up over the next few hours, but I was wrong. So I closed my long position on Direxion Daily Energy Bull and Bear 3X Shares (ERX) at 2.13% loss (everything was tweeted out)

A month later, I made another call on oil. This time, short oil. I went long inverse oil ETF. Here’s why I thought oil would drop;

I closed the SCO position a month later at 22.55% gain, the biggest gainer of all positions closed during the first quarter of this year.

My biggest loss came from VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short-Term ETN (TVIX). I thought volatility would pick up in the coming month (and it did a little bit). However, after they underwent 1:10 reverse split on March 16th, I did not want to risk having the ETN go to single digits once again, so I indeed closed the position at 17.27% loss.

In nominal terms, the 22.55% gain on SCO is 3 times larger than the 17.27 loss on TVIX.

There are other positions that made and lost money. But overall, my portfolio was up 3.51% in the 1st quarter.

Current Positions:

I can only go long securities on Robinhood. My current positions are SPXS, WFC, LULU, DIS, EXPE, VRX.

I went long on Direxion Daily S&P 500 Bill and Bear 3x Shares (SPXS), which is inverse of S&P 500, because I believe investors are underestimating the negatives of Trump’s policies. Once investors realize the negatives of Trump’s fiscal policies and/or his actual policies are less stimulative as he proposed, the market will take a dump.

A lot of people think tax rate will be reduced to 15%. I have been watching some of Trump’s TV interviews, especially on Fox News, and it seems Trump himself does not believe tax cut will be 15% or lower. He basically said it might have to be little higher, say around 20%.

I also watched Trump’s body language and I believe Trump is not confident in what he’s saying about his fiscal stimulus plan as he was during the campaign.

So when the actual plan is released, investors will be disappointed.

SPXS is also a small hedge for my portfolio as I’m long individual U.S. stocks.

I’m also long on Wells Fargo (WFC), Lulelemon Athletica (LULU). I believe the plunge on LULU is overdone and could fill half of the gap. WFC fell after the earnings report last week. General bank earnings are trending higher and Well Fargo is no different. I went long on WFC also due to technical purposes.

I’m also long on Disney (DIS). I bought just at the start of rumors that Apple (AAPL) would buy Disney.

I’m also long on Expedia (EXPE). See this awesome tweet thread.

And finally, I’m long Valeant (VRX). I went long on the pharmaceutical company the day after Bill Ackman revealed he cut his $4 billion loss.

Valeant recently extended the maturity of their debt until the early 2020s, which gives them about 5 years to restructure their capital and the company. Plus, they have over $5 in cash for each share.

Just because Ackman lost big on VRX does not mean he’s not a great investor. He is a great investor (that’s why he’s rich?). If you watch his presentations and talks, he knows about he’s talking about. He does his research and deeply cares about other people. At least that’s what I think.

The current positions I mentioned above can change at any time or reverse. Thank you.

Trump’s Market-Moving Tweets Are Awesome

Believe it or not. I love the tweets from @realDonaldTrump. No matter what the content of the tweets are, I love the fact it moves the markets. Why would I love it? Because I love volatility.

In December, Trump tweeted out;

The tweet sent shares in small uranium miners soaring, including Uranium Resources (NASDAQ: URRE) and Uranium Energy Corp. (NYSE: UEC) by 31% and 13%, respectively.

Despite the real world complications, I just love the fact it agitates the markets.

More tweets;

These tweets, as you can guess – sent the shares of Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), which is the supplier of F-35 program, and Boeing (NYSE: BA) – down. From both tweets, Lockheed Martin lost billions in market cap. The rival Boeing was barely unchanged at the end, as it means more opportunities for them to gain more contracts.

However, Trump targeted Boeing in earlier December when he tweeted this;

The tweet sent the stock price down by 1%, but ended the day flat.

Year-to-date……so far, Trump has already targeted General Motors (NYSE: GM) and Toyota Motor (NYSE: TM);

Trump’s tweets are just awesome. The volatility it brings allows me to make more money than the non-volatility. As I mentioned in my previous article, I recently opened RobinHood account, broker with $0 commissions. Using the broker in the future, I’m planning to buy some shares of the companies Trump negatively targets, especially if investors overreact.

Since it seems Trump has a strong hatred towards Mexico and the U.S. companies working there, here are the potential targets;

It seems there are seconds delay until the stocks react to Trump’s tweets. That’s rare considering the era of algorithm trading which can react in milliseconds and less.

Algos have yet to incorporate Trump’s tweets into their codes. It’s not that simple yet as it can be difficult to determine the sentiment from a tweet. Algos can easily get the direction of the stock wrong. We need more tweets to better analyze it.

But, will the future tweets move the markets or not? It all depends on how successful Trump is in implementing what he tweets. If Trump is unable to do so, he will just lose credibility.

Meanwhile, markets will react to the tweets and I plan to take advantage of them.

Trigger (originally a class project at Cornell Tech) just recently introduced “Trump Trigger” that will send you a notification every time Trump tweets about your investments. Not an algo, but notification that can be useful for amateur investors. Not my thing.

Photograph courtesy of Trigger

Almost 4 years ago, Associated Press (AP)’s twitter account tweeted out;

Photo: Screenshots.
Source: USA Today

It was tweeted minutes after the account was hacked. Seconds after the tweet, S&P 500 lost $136 billion in market cap., before quickly rebounding.

What if Trump’s account was hacked? The account can be exploited for financial gain, to cause geopolitical instability, or worse.

Whatever it is, I plan to take take advantage of them for financial gain.

Speaking of Twitter, follow me. I tweet about some of the articles I read, my trades and some sarcasm. Unfortunately, my tweets do not move the markets……for now.

The Next Big Threat: Illiquidity

Liquidity is the investor’s ability to buy and sell a security without significantly impacting its price. Lack of liquidity in a security can have its consequences. Post financial crisis regulations, such as Volcker Rule (Dodd-Frank), and Basel 3, has made it more expensive and more difficult for banks to store bonds in their inventories and facilitate trades for investors. Regulations designed to make the system more safer have depressed the trading activity.

Lack of supply is one cause for diminishing liquidity. Banks, the dealers of corporate bonds, have reduced their inventories. According to Bank for International Settlements (BIS), “Market participants have raised concerns that regulatory reforms, by raising the costs of warehousing assets, have contributed to reducing market liquidity and could be keeping banks from acting as shock absorbers during periods of market stress.”

Primary Dealer Net Positions (2006 to 2016) Source: MarketAxess
Primary Dealer Net Positions (2006 to 2016)
Source: MarketAxess

According to BIS, “US primary dealers…have continued to reduce their corporate bond inventories over the past years. Since the beginning of the year 2013, they have cut back their net positions in U.S. Treasuries by nearly 80%.

Another big cause of decreasing in liquidity is technology. A technology that has changed the structure of markets, high-frequency trading (HFT), an algorithm computer trading in seconds and in fractions of seconds, account for much larger share of the trading transactions and it leads to low liquidity. Majority of HFTs, if not all, reduces liquidity by pairing selected (self-interest), leaving out others. According to BIS, 70% of U.S. Treasury trading is done electronically, up from 60% in 2012. For both high-yield bonds (not highly liquid asset), it accounts for more than 20%. About 90% of transactions on bond futures take place electronically. I have no doubt electronic trading will continue to increase.

“Greater use of electronic trading and enhanced transparency in fixed income markets typically comes at the cost of greater price impact from large trades.”, BIS said in the report. Bonds now trade in smaller transaction sizes than they did before, “… large trades seem less suitable for trading on electronic platforms because prices move quickly against participants who enter large orders due to the transparency of the market infrastructure.” “It “discourages market-makers from accommodating large trades if they fear that they cannot unwind their positions without risking a sizeable impact on prices.”

BIS in its quarterly review report (March 2015) stated (source: FINRA’s TRACE data), the average transaction size of large trades of U.S. investment grade corporate bonds (so-called “block trades”) declined from more than $25 million in 2006 to about $15 million in 2013.

This is a sign of illiquidity since “trading large amounts of corporate bonds has become more difficult.” Trades facing constrained liquidity puts investors, especially large investors, to a disadvantage.

Capacity to buy/sell without too much influence on the market prices are deteriorating. Lack of liquidity can causes wild swings in the bond prices, which then can affect the rest of the financial markets. Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.

They are connected, but let me tell you why they are so important. The U.S Treasury securities market is the largest, the most liquid, and the most active debt market in the world. They are used to finance the government, and used by the Federal Reserve in implementing its monetary policy. I repeat, in implementing its monetary policy. Having a liquid market – in which having no problem buying and selling securities without affecting the market price – is very important to the market participants and policymakers alike.

Examples of high volatility in a low liquidity:

  • Flash Crash (May 2010)

In a matter of 30 minutes, major U.S. stock indices fell 10%, only to recover most of the losses before the end of the trading day. Some blue-chip shares briefly traded at pennies. WHAT A SALE! According to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) report, before 2:32 p.m., volatility was unusually high and liquidity was thinning, a mutual-fund group entered a large sell order (valued at approximately $4.1 billion) in “E-mini” futures on the S&P 500 Index. The large trade was made by an algorithm. The “algo” was programmed to take account of trading volume, with little regard, or no regard at all, to the price nor time. Since the volatility was already high during that time and volume was increasing, this sell trade was executed in just 20 minutes, instead of several hours that would be typical for such an order, 75,000 E-mini contracts (again, valued at approximately $4.1 billion).

May 6, 2010 - SPY Volume and Price Source: SEC Report
May 6, 2010 – SPY Volume and Price
Source: SEC Report
May 6, 2010 - SPY Volume and Price Source: SEC Report
May 6, 2010 – SPY Volume and Price
Source: SEC Report

According to the report, this sell pressure was initially absorbed by HFTs, buying E-mini contracts. However, minutes after the execution of the sell order, HFTs “aggressively” reduced their long positions. The increase in the volume again led the mutual-fund group “algo” to increase “the rate at which it was feeding the orders into the markets”, creating what’s known as a negative feedback loop. That’s the power of HFTs.

This was nearly 6 years ago. Today, there’s no doubt the power of the secretive section of the financial markets, HFTs, are much stronger and powerful and can destroy the markets with “one finger”.

With low liquidity in the bond market and increasing HFT transactions in it, the threat is real. Automated trades can trigger extreme price swings and the communication in these automated trades can quickly erode liquidity before you even know it, even though there is a very high volume. While liquidity in the U.S. bond market is high, it’s not high enough to battle the power of the technological progress.

Let’s not forget. Fixed-income assets such as, corporate bonds, are often traded over the counter in illiquid markets, not in more liquid exchanges, as stocks are.

It’s all about profits. Some, if not all HFTs, act the way they do, to make profit. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, the creators of the algorithms have to be ethical and responsible. It’s not likely to happen anytime soon since profits are the main goal (mine too) in the financial markets. So why should HFT “be fair” to others? I know I wouldn’t.

  • Taper Tantrum (2013 Summer)

In the summer of 2013, the former Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, hinted an end to the Fed’s monthly purchases of long-term securities (taper off, or slow down its Quantitative Easing), which sent the financial markets, including the bond market into a tailspin.

On June 19, 2013, Ben Bernanke during a press conference said, “the Committee currently anticipates that it would be appropriate to moderate the monthly pace of purchases later this year.” That sentence alone started the financial market roller coaster.

Yields skyrocketed. The gravity took down the value of greenback (U.S. Dollar). U.S. long-term interest rates shot up by 100 basis points (1%). Even short-term interest rate markets saw the rate-hike to come sooner than the Fed policymakers suggested. Borrowings costs increased so much, as the markets was expecting tightening of the monetary policy, it “locked up” the Fed from cutting the pace of bond buying that year.

Markets' Reaction To June 19, 2013, Ben Bernanke Press Conference Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Markets’ Reaction To June 19, 2013, Ben Bernanke Press Conference
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

This raises (or raised) whatever the market prices can handle orders that are executed in milliseconds. It points to a lack of supply (dealer inventories), A.K.A illiquidity. I feel bad for funds that have a lot of corporate-bonds in their portfolio. The struggle is real.

An open-ended funds that allow investors to exit overnight are more likely to experience a run, as market volatility increases. A run on funds will force the funds to sell illiquid assets, which can push down the prices lower and lower. Recently example of that is the Third Avenue (“investors’ money are being held hostage”).

Brace for a fire sale. Coming soon in your area.

Market makers, where are you? Come back. I need to sell the investments at a current price, before it goes much lower.

  • October 15, 2014

The financial markets experienced – as the U.S. Department of the Treasury puts it – “an unusually high level of volatility and a very rapid round-trip in prices. Although trading volumes were high and the market continued to function, liquidity conditions became significantly strained.”

On October 15, 2014, the markets went into a tailspin again. The Dow plummeted 460 points, only to recover most of the losses. The Nasdaq briefly fell into a correction territory, only to rebound sharply. The 10-year Treasury yield “experienced a 37-basis-point trading range, only to close 6 basis points below its opening level”, according the U.S. Treasury Department report.

According to Nanex, a firm that offers real-time streaming data on the markets, between 9:33 A.M and 9:45 A.M, “liquidity evaporated in Treasury futures and prices skyrocketed (causing yields to plummet). Five minutes later, prices returned to 9:33 levels.” “Treasury futures were so active, they pushed overall trade counts on the CME to a new record high.”, said the report.

“Note how liquidity just plummets.”

Liquidity in the 10 year as measured by total sizes of orders in 10 levels of depth of book. Source: Nanex
Liquidity in the 10 year as measured by total sizes of orders in 10 levels of depth of book.
Source: Nanex

Again, as I said, “Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.” The mayhem in in the bond market can spread to the foreign exchange (forex) market.

October 15, 2014 - World Currencies Source: Nanex
October 15, 2014 – World Currencies
Source: Nanex

These types of occurrences are becoming common, or the “new normal”. As the Fed raises rates, the market participants will be adjusting their portfolio and/or will adjust them ahead of it (expectations), these adjustments will force another market volatility. But this time, I believe it will be much worse, as liquidity continues to dry up and technology progresses.

Recent market crashes and volatility, including the August 2015 ETF blackout, is just another example of increasing illiquidity in the markets. Hiccups in the markets will get bigger and will become common. Illiquidity is the New Normal.

Hello HFTs, how are you doing? Making $$$? Cool.

With interest rates around 0 (well, before the rate-hike in December), U.S. companies have rushed to issue debt. With the recent rate-hike by the Fed, U.S. corporate bond market will experience more volatility. Lower and diminishing liquidity will “manufacture” a volatility to a record levels that the financial markets and the economy won’t be able to cope with it.  As said, “Today’s financial markets are so connected just like the economic domino effects.”, the corporate bond market volatility will spread to the rest of the financial markets.

Oh wait, that already is happening. Reversal of monetary policy by the Fed this year, as I believe the Fed will lower back rates this year, will make things worse.

Liquidity: Peace out!